rodney mcleod

Optimistic Rodney McLeod has new appreciation for recovery

Optimistic Rodney McLeod has new appreciation for recovery

After months of rehab, Eagles safety Rodney McLeod expects to be ready for training camp when players report on July 24. 

“I think my body will be ready to go,” McLeod said on Thursday after the last minicamp practice of the spring. “We just honestly have to figure out what that’s going to look like. Getting me back acclimated is the biggest thing.”

In recent practices, McLeod has been participating in individual drills but hasn’t been participating in the team portions. That’s the next step. Training camp starts almost exactly 10 months from when McLeod suffered the ACL injury that ended his 2018 season early. 

He’s returning with a greater appreciation for just how hard it is to recover from a major injury. 

It was a humbling experience, I will say that. You never see what goes on day to day with these injuries that a lot of guys face, even guys like Carson (Wentz), Chris Maragos, all the guys that experience ACL injuries, Jason Peters. I leaned on those guys for advice, but I didn’t really know what that was going to entail until I experienced it. I got a greater deal of respect for those guys to see them battle back and see them perform the way that they have. It’s pretty remarkable. I’m hoping to do the same. Just excited to be back out there.

This was the first major injury of McLeod’s career. Until last season, McLeod had played 97 of 99 possible games in his career. He played all 16 games from 2012-16 and missed just two games in the 2017 season (one of them was the meaningless regular season finale). This was all new. 

McLeod and fellow defensive back Ronald Darby helped each other through the recovery process. McLeod was already over a month into his recovery when Darby went down, so he was able to let him know what to expect. The two pushed each other in rehab, using a competition board in the training room. 

When asked about the hardest part of the process, McLeod said it was the lack of instant results. 

“You just really gotta trust the trainers and trust yourself,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Especially early, the first couple months. You’re down and out and doing the same thing constantly, repeatedly and not to see the results you’re really looking for. But one thing, you just gotta have those short-term goals and that’s one thing that I’ve been focusing on so far.”

The next short-term goal is to be ready for training camp. It’s one McLeod expects to meet. After that, his goal will be to play in Week 1 alongside Malcolm Jenkins.

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Making sense of the Eagles' Ronald Darby contract

Making sense of the Eagles' Ronald Darby contract

Why bring back a rehabbing Ronald Darby on a fairly sizable contract — one year at somewhere north of $8 million — when you already have a large stable of promising young corners who carried the Eagles down the stretch last year and through the playoffs and are all making minimum wage or close to it?

It’s a fair question. It’s a good question.

When last year ended, the Eagles were getting very good outside corner play from Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox, although Maddox did come back to earth a bit in the playoffs. Not surprising for a rookie fourth-round pick.

But we all saw tons of potential from Douglas, who made tremendous progress as a cover corner and proved to be as capable a tackling corner as we’ve seen around here since Sheldon Brown.

The question with Maddox is does he end up at safety or corner, and the Eagles answered that — at least temporarily — when they restructured Rodney McLeod, which means Malcolm Jenkins and McLeod are your starting safeties in 2019 if McLeod is healthy.

Then there’s Jalen Mills, who fans love to hate and struggled last year before he got hurt. But Mills was a starter on a Super Bowl team and is very good in the red zone. And there’s Sidney Jones, who the Eagles liked enough to draft in the second round in 2017 even though they knew he couldn’t play for a year.

And Cre’Von LeBlanc, who really took ownership of the slot late in the season.

A lot of intriguing talent. A lot of intriguing young talent.

You would think the Eagles could go into training camp with Douglas, Maddox, Mills, Jones and LeBlanc at corner and let everybody compete for the two outside spots and the slot.

And that would have given the Eagles a pretty good secondary.

I saw enough from Douglas and Maddox the second half of last year to feel like they would wind up outside, with LeBlanc inside. That would allow Jones to back up outside as he continues to grow as a player and allow Mills to take his time getting healthy.

But most of these guys are versatile and can play inside or outside and in some cases safety as well, so there were a lot of interesting possibilities.

I would go into the 2019 season with that group.

So why Darby?

Because one absolute law of the NFL is that you can never have enough cornerbacks.

If last year didn’t teach us that, I don’t know what ever will.

The Eagles lost Mills with a foot injury in the Jacksonville game, and they lost Darby a week later against Dallas. Between injuries and guys just not playing well, they went through 10 cornerbacks during the season. And still made the playoffs.

It’s easy to sit back and say, Douglas, Maddox and LeBlanc can hold down corner, but the reality is that those three have started a combined 35 games in their careers.

They’ve shown promise, but none of them are a proven commodity over the long term. 

And relying on promise and potential isn’t always the best way to build an NFL team.

Darby — when healthy — is very good. He’s fast and aggressive, has good size and is fearless.

As much as I like the promise that Douglas and Maddox have shown and the potential Jones has and the spirit that LeBlanc played with last year and Mills’ swagger from the Super Bowl run, a healthy Darby is the Eagles’ most talented cornerback.

Now, the healthy part is key. If Darby can’t get through 2019 without getting hurt, the Eagles are off the hook with no cap hit in 2020. They'll move on, much like they did with Jordan Hicks.

There are still a lot of unknowns in the secondary. Mills, Darby and McLeod are all coming off injuries and could presumably start the season on the PUP list.

The group the Eagles start with will likely not be the one they finish with.

So the more talent you can stockpile, the better your chances of having a capable crew once January rolls around.

The cap space was there. Darby wanted to be here. He knows the system. The deal is team-friendly.

So there’s no downside to this. It’s simple. The Eagles are a better team with Darby than without him.

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Re-ranking Eagles' top needs after initial free agency flurry

Re-ranking Eagles' top needs after initial free agency flurry

Free agency doesn’t even technically begin until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, but that hasn’t stopped a flurry of activity in the last two days. 

The legal tampering window is now really the start of free agency. 

The Eagles have already made several moves. They’re bringing in DT Malik Jackson, keeping Jason Peters, trading for DeSean Jackson and more. Catch up on everything here.

Based on what’s already happened, I have re-ranked the Eagles’ top five positional needs heading into the second half of free agency and eventually the draft: 

1. Running back 

After adding Jackson, I think the Eagles solved their speed wide receiver problem, but now the most glaring need on offense is at running back. Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are set to become free agents, which means the Eagles still have Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams. But none of those guys has established themselves as a featured back in the NFL. The Eagles have some options here. There are still a few top-notch running backs on the market. Or they could trade for one. If the Eagles don’t get a running back soon, they still have three picks in the first two rounds in April. 

2. Defensive end 

They re-signed Brandon Graham, but the Eagles are also shipping Michael Bennett to the Patriots, so they’re losing one of their best defensive ends. They’ll start Graham and Derek Barnett next season and will have Josh Sweat coming off the bench. The Eagles are also hoping Chris Long decides to return. If he doesn’t, they’ll definitely need to find another pass rusher. Even if Long is back, they should find at least one more. That could come in free agency, but that is the more expensive route and this draft class is stocked with defensive linemen. It’s just such an important position in the league and to the Eagles. 

3. Offensive guard 

The Eagles aren’t picking up Stefen Wisniewski’s option year in 2019, letting the veteran walk. They’ll save $3 million in cap space, but this leaves the depth chart a little empty. Without Wiz, the Eagles’ top interior backup is last year’s sixth-round pick, Matt Pryor. Chance Warmack wasn’t very good, but he at least has starting experience and he’s about to become a free agent too. This is especially troubling because right guard Brandon Brooks is recovering from a torn Achilles and his status for Week 1 is in question. Isaac Seumalo was re-signed and will be the starter at left guard.  

4. Linebacker 

Jordan Hicks is heading to the Cardinals on a four-year deal worth $34 million, and it could be worth up to $36 million. That deal comes with a signing bonus of $12 million and $20 guaranteed, so it was a little too pricy for the Eagles. This leaves them with Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry and Paul Worrilow at linebacker. Based on some of the contracts going out to linebackers, the Eagles might want to wait until the draft, but they still might need to add one. The good news is they primarily use just two linebackers around 75 percent of the time. 

5. Offensive tackle 

The Eagles figured out a way to keep Jason Peters for the 2019 season, but how much longer is the 37-year-old really going to play? At least the Eagles still have Halapoulivaati Vaitai as a depth player and Jordan Mailata is possibly the future left tackle. But if Mailata doesn’t work out, the Eagles need another plan that isn’t bringing back a 38-year-old Peters this time next year. It wouldn’t be shocking to see them draft an offensive lineman relatively early. 

6. Defensive tackle 

Adding Malik Jackson will go a long way. That starting defensive tackle position next to Fletcher Cox was a mess throughout 2018 and Jackson is a former Pro Bowler with the ability to get some pass rush inside. That’s huge. But after him, the Eagles have Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector as depth pieces. They could use more. 

7. Safety  

The Eagles re-worked Rodney McLeod’s deal so he’ll be back with Malcolm Jenkins to start in 2019. But Corey Graham is likely retiring, which leaves Tre Sullivan as the third safety. Sullivan played well down the stretch last season, but with such a deep class of free agent safeties, perhaps the Eagles can snag one to become that third safety and possibly a replacement for McLeod next season. 

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